Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Let's Talk About Iced Coffee!

My Galley/Kitchen
    It's been a long while since I've written about coffee making and drinking on the road. In the AM it is important for me to get a jolt to get my brain moving for the rest of the day. I'm really not much of a morning person. Believe me, ask anyone I know. They will all advise not trying to hold a conversation with me until that first magic cup begins to work. I can be a bit grumpy and, well, incoherent until then.

I have several different methods of making coffee on the road, including 120V Drip, Old Style Stove-top percolator, French Press Pot and even Instant ... though I REALLY avoid the instant as it simply tastes awful to me. Lately it has been quite hot outside and humid too. I enjoy Iced Coffee on days like that. It's very refreshing and clears my morning brain, too. Sounds like a Win-Win. Aside from buying it from a shop (Dunkin' Donuts, StarBucks, etc., etc.) I've been making my own.

The Regular "Run Of The Mill" Drop Coffee Maker
Brewing Iced Coffee is a bit different than the hot, fresh brewed, variety. First, since it will be served cold it can be stronger. Not to mention when you add ice and time it becomes diluted. Well, that is unless you're like me and drink it quickly! If I have a 120 Volt electric hookup or I know I will be running my generator for a while, I'll brew a full 12 cup pot with my drip coffeemaker. I'll let it cool (covered) then transfer it to a container to put in the fridge (Yes, I do sneak a cup at this point with ice!)  Make sure the container is going to be used for coffee exclusively as the odor and flavor of coffee tends to get picked up by the container. If you like coffee-flavored other beverages ... it's OK. An airtight container works best as the coffee will last MUCH longer that way. Hot brewed coffee has a finite "life" -- after a while it begins to oxidize and begins to taste bitter. Doctoring it up with cream/milk and sugar will help, but bad coffee is just BAD! There is a process known as "cold brewing" which allegedly will prevent oxidation and the coffee can be used for up to a week (either hot or cold). I haven't tried that ... yet. Sounds "Too Good To Be True."

Once made, seal the container and place in the fridge. For the best taste, make sure you mix your favorite things into it AFTER you pour into your cup. Leaving milk/cream in a container of coffee in the fridge will make for some nasty mixes as it will separate out. I like half & half  and a bit of sugar. Usually I use less creamer in Iced Coffee than I do in hot coffee. For me, it usually won't last the day, but as long as it's in an airtight container, you should be able to keep it overnight without too much flavor change. Once I try the "cold brewing" method I'll let you know if it lasts longer (and maybe tastes better?) Either way, a cold version of my favorite "eye opener" is a welcome addition to the beverage mix. Did I mention to use clean/clear ice for best results....

Almost any method of coffee making can be used to produce brew to be used in an Iced version. Try them all. Even the experiments taste pretty good!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What To Do When A Longer Trip "Sneaks" Up On You

Driveway Surfing
    I love to travel. I love to travel in my RV. Especially spontaneous trips whenever I can string a couple (or more) days together. Most of the time the RV is already stocked, fueled and checked. Everything is already on board the RV, ready to go. Well, if the trip is going to be more than 3 days, there are a few more items I will need. Not to mention a bunch of extra trip planning to make sure I get where I am going AND get back within the time I have. I wish I wasn't in such a hurry and could take as many days as I wanted to meander through our great country, Alas, that is not to be...yet! One day (maybe) I will retire and wander the highways and byways of this great land. Until are a bunch of tips to be able to pull off a longer RV trip without too much trouble in the time you have to spare.

First...figure out where you are going. Sounds pretty obvious, but if you, like me, don't really plan the destinations's a game changer. Once you know where you are headed..figure out how long it will take to get there comfortably. Marathon drives don't a vacation make! I like to max out at about 6 hours per day. Maybe a bit more, sometimes a bit less. If you cruise at around 60 MPH, that's roughly 360 Miles per day of travel. Usually, I go a bit further especially if it's at night. I much prefer to travel at night...less traffic, cooler temperatures and I get into a "groove." The miles seem to pass effortlessly under the RV.

Next, figure out approximately where you will stop (this could be a few places along the route, just to be safe). If I am continuing on to a specific destination, usually a place to sleep and a place to maybe buy or make breakfast is sufficient. I like Cracker Barrels for this. They let you stay overnight most places AND have a great breakfast. (Don't get me started on the gift shop! Old fashioned candy...Yay!) You could just as easily stay in a Wal-Mart (if permitted) or a campground. I don't like to pay if I am just sleeping for a few hours. But hey, that's just me. Sometimes I get lucky and locate a boondocking site (or a friend with a driveway) along the way. It's rare, but do-able.

Leave yourself enough time to enjoy the destination. A least a couple of full days before you hit the road again. Relax when you get there! Don't forget this's important! Just as important is leaving enough time to return without rushing. I usually add an hour extra (at least) for the return trip just so I am not pushing myself. Another stop on the way back to recharge MY batteries and a leisurely finish up on the last trip day takes care of the distance. Maybe one day I can just "light out for parts unknown" and forget about the time. I've seen RV clocks that are marked in DAYS rather than hours. I like that idea.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

RV Home Theater - Finding A Better Screen.

See The New 19" LCD Monitor
When I first bought my RV, it had a 13" CRT TV with a VHS player. It seems so ridiculous now, but that was pretty decent in a small coach in the early 90's. One of the first modifications I made was fitting an 19" LCD monitor into the same space. Later on I added all digital media playback which opened up a lot of content, Depending on your layout, you may only have a screen at the front of the coach and NO seats face it directly. Lots of stiff necks watching it with your head turned. I'd always wanted to move the screen across from my couch so multiple people could watch and enjoy. For Christmas, a friend bought me an LCD Pico Projector as a gift. While I was quite skeptical about it at I'm sold on it. Especially in an RV environment. So how could I watch the projected image on a nice screen ACROSS from the couch? I thought I had an I have a better one!

The Spandex/Lycra I Bought
Spandex is an amazing material. It's not just for tiny swimsuits anymore. You can even stretch it out and use it as a screen. Lots of companies offer the raw material to do just that. I was going to stitch some seams, add some grommets and tie-downs and affix it to various pieces of my RV to have a nice large flat screen. This turned out to be a lot of work, for not a great screen. It works, but is not ideal. What I really needed was a regular old-fashioned movie screen. You remember, the ones that rolled up into a cylinder like a window shade. I use one at work on occasion. Works GREAT even in a lit room. Problem? It's heavy, REALLY heavy and hard to store since it's rolls into a rigid long case. do we get around that? Start by doing research online. I looked at every portable projection screen setup that was available. There were some amazing ones that took up little space, but they were all too small. I wanted one that was around 63" horizontally and 36" vertically. or , as TV folks like to say, 72" diagonal picture. That's a HUGE improvement over even my 19" LCD.

Yes, It WILL Fit Under The Couch
Finding one close to those, almost 16:9, dimensions was impossible, Then  it occurred to me...what about a ~60" by ~60" 4:3 screen? Just don't pull it all they way out! Eureka! There were LOTS of those around...really inexpensive too. So I ordered a name brand one for $32 including shipping and waited until it arrived. It was big. And solid. And I was worried it wouldn't fit under the couch, And it was still a bit heavy. Ah well, I decided to try and get it to work. I began looking for ways to hang the cylinder from the ceiling or under a cabinet so it would be easy to pull down and use. Did I mention this thing is pretty heavy? I just couldn't figure out a way to mount it safely that wouldn't leave lots of big ugly hooks exposed.

Besides, if it was mounted below the cabinet, I'd lose around 3.5 inches of screen. Not acceptable. Now what? I was playing with the screen sitting on the table when it dawned on me....since it was heavy, wouldn't I be able to LEAVE it on the table and pull the screen UP instead of down? Why not? I would only need one hook to hold it up, all the weight was on the bottom. WIN! Then I discovered the place that the screen naturally locks would allow me to rotate the cylinder so it was BEHIND the screen! Now the entire screen is usable! Win-Win!! It looks AMAZING! The picture is much crisper and brighter than when I used the Spandex version. Much Simpler to setup and take down, too.

Once I figured out where to place the projector, right now it sits on a short tripod (that was included) on the back of my couch, but later will be hanging from under the cabinet across from the screen AND be easily removed and stored. I was in business, It looks great! Next issue will be figuring out how to get better sound without resorting to a new stereo and all that power draw, No's a work in progress. Stay Tuned!

Be Seeing You... Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Even The Simple Things - Fixing A Vent Fan Pop-Lock

You Cannot See It, But There Is A Cool Breeze Blowing!
    I love my vent fans!!! Without them creating a "permanent" breeze in my RV I would be uncomfortably hot in the summer. I have two vent fans, one in the front and one in the back. Typically, I leave one pulling air in from outside and the other exhausting it to the outside. Works amazingly well to keep the interior cool when combined with Mylar bubble foil material covers. A while back I discovered a retrofit was available to allow me to use the new style of "pop-lock" fan covers. These eliminated the need to screw and unscrew LOTS of tiny screws to clean the screen and covered the screw-holes to boot.. They were inexpensive (2 for ~$20 including shipping) They have worked well for almost two years. This year, when I was cleaning them and prepping the RV for the season, both of them broke in two places. They can be fixed. Pretty Easily.

When you remove and re-install a pop-lock many, many times, the edges 90 degrees from the "finger pull" crack. The screen still stays in, but it's not as tight as it was when new. If you CAREFULLY remove it after it cracks, it can be fixed easily and, so far, permanently. So, begin by removing (carefully!) the screen and surrounding frame along with it, using the regular removal method. Make sure you do not snap any of the tabs that secure it to the fan itself. Once off, place it on piece of wax paper on a flat surface and make sure you only have cracks, no missing pieces (though you could fix those as well...just not as easily!) I used a simple "super" glue (cyanoacrylate) product. Any brand will work fine. Put a very small drop on either side of the cracked surfaces, wait a few seconds and press together. Hold it as long as you can. You do not need a huge amount of pressure here...just enough to keep the surfaces together. Repeat with any other cracks. Leave it alone to cure overnight (less is OK, but I like to be sure it won't crack again on re-installation!

All Fixed.
If you have a "chunk" missing, find an old piece of similar plastic you can cut a small patch from. Place a bit of glue on both the surface of the patch as well as the hidden surface of the pop-lock. Press together the same way as above. The extra plastic will span the gap. It may not be pretty, but it WILL work! Be careful using any kind of cyanoacrylate super glue as it is VERY easy to get it on things you do NOT want stuck together. Like your fingers, or the pop-lock to the table. (Yup, I did it!) If you act fast, you can use acetone (nail polish remover) to wipe away the super glue residue. Just be careful, not all surfaces can tolerate acetone. Check on a spot you cannot see before applying to the surface in question!

After everything is done, re-install the pop-locks on your vent fans and you are good to go. I will likely order another new set when they are on sale, then swap to the new ones, keeping my newly repaired ones in reserve. It's not that I am cheap.....just "frugal."

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Even The Simple Things - Keeping Your Drains Hair Free

    Yuck, there is almost no job I hate more than cleaning hair out of shower drains. In RV's it is especially important, since you really don't want hair going into your grey water tanks. Bending over in my small bathroom area isn't the easiest thing either. Crawling around on my hands and knees to clean some yucky debris out of the shower drain can be really nasty. If you don't keep it clear, you could end up with a drain that won't drain and water all over your floor. Not good at all.

 Most drains come with a "strainer" cover. This is basically a metal plate with pencil sized holes in it. Unlike home drains, you can't use a metal mesh sink strainer in it. But I found a couple of ways to get around that. One VERY easy and one...not so much. You can use one or the other method. Or, better still combine them both!

Let's begin with the easy way. I found, at a big box store, a really nifty drain cover. It has much smaller holes in it, so it catches more hair and a great silicone edge that gets extremely thin so the entire thing rests flatly, snug with the bottom of the shower pan. Looks pretty slick too. To clean, you simply lift it up and out. Shake it over the trash or, better yet, give it good hose rinse outside. Clean. Done. No muss, and only a little fuss. Then just place it back over the existing drain. I usually do this after every shower. I've had NO problems with the water draining more slowly with it in use.

There is a more difficult way. The Shower drain cover is held on with a single screw and can be removed quite easily. I do this periodically to clean around it. Underneath is just an open pipe. If you remove the cover and cut a metal mesh screen to fit under it, you can then poke a hole for the screw and attach the metal screen to the underside of the drain cover. Put the cover back on. Now you have a metal screen. The main problem here? It works, but to clean it properly you will have to remove the screw and the cover. It's kind of a "belt & suspenders" approach.

Hey, wait a minute! What about both? You could pick up and clean the easy drain cover after every shower and unscrew the existing (modified) one every once in a while. I'll bet that would almost completely (or just completely) fix the problem once and for all!

Sometimes the best solutions happen when you re-think your first ideas. I'm going to install both and see how it works on my next trip.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"